Science Content In Middle and High School NGSS Classrooms

What does adopting the NGSS mean for the content you teach?

What does the NGSS mean for your science content?When it comes to the NGSS and content, I hear time and again — “where is all the content?” Teachers either feel limited by the content described in the Disciplinary Core Ideas, or they feel totally overwhelmed by just how vague the Disciplinary Core Ideas are.

It makes sense — it’s totally understandable. The DCIs are exactly what they sound like — CORE IDEAS.  They are the BIG ideas in science that we want our students to graduate high school understanding.

But obviously, in order to understand those BIG ideas, students are going to need to get some details, too.  The details you include in your curriculum are designed to illustrate and support student understanding of the big DCIs.

So what are you supposed to teach? Well, in many ways, it’s really up to you.  When you’re teaching about the flow of matter and energy in ecosystems, you might teach about a “big” ecosystem like kelp forests off the coast of California, or you could teach on a much smaller scale like… hydrothermal vents or gut flora or something! You have the freedom to choose HOW your students will come to understand the DCIs.  The NGSS are not a curriculum – they’re standards that state what students will know and do. The details are up to you.

That said, that can be pretty overwhelming! The NGSS hasn’t left you quite so high and dry when it comes to figuring out what details you might use as you’re teaching the DCIs.  All you have to do is pull up the Evidence Statements to get some great examples to get you started.


Using The Evidence Statements

For example, MS-LS1-3 addresses how cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems work together to carry out life’s processes.  You might be wondering exactly what depth you should address these topics — what cells, what tissues, what organs? What organ systems? Should you teach them all? No! That’s definitely not necessary in order for students to discover the DCI. Instead, as you can see in the Evidence Statements, you might focus on just one system (such as the circulatory system) to illustrate the relationship between cells, tissues, and organs.  Then, you might simply add in the relationship between the circulatory system and the respiratory system to illustrate how organ systems work together and affect each other. You might extend this idea with ties to the digestive system.

Since students already understand the relationship between cells, tissues, and organs from studying the circulatory system, there’s no need to spend a ton of time learning the complete respiratory and digestive systems.  They are only relevant in so far as they illustrate how organ systems work together to carry out life’s functions.

Voila! There’s your content. Now, you don’t HAVE to use all of the examples described in the Evidence Statements. You may choose to take a different approach, and that’s totally fine! The examples are simply there to help you clarify the DCIs and better understand the Performance Expectations.  

That said, if you’re not sure where to start, of course you should use the examples the NGSS provides! Why not!?

So the next time you’re struggling with content when it comes to the NGSS — whether it’s “there’s too much” or “there’s not enough” — dig into those Evidence Statements and see what you can find.

Are you ready to engage your students with the NGSS, but aren’t sure where to start?

I have your solution. Kickstart Aha! It’s our free 4-day mini-course that will break down what the NGSS actually looks like — what it means for your content and your instruction.

If you’re overwhelmed with

  • determining what content you should be teaching,
  • how to turn your units into storylines, and
  • what three dimensional instruction really is all about,

this course is for you. 

“In just one mini course, I learned more about making the NGSS come alive than what I garnered from an 8 hour PD.” – Missy I., Middle School Science Teacher (New Hampshire)


Enroll in Kickstart Aha! today.

Click here.

What does the NGSS mean for your science content?